Learning to Organise across the world

Last Friday evening I went on an online campus tour of the New Organizing University. An initiative of the New Organizing Institute, the university starts to offer distance learning courses on community organising in September. The meeting brought together about twenty people from across the States with me representing the rest of the world! Ours was the second such tour in a week and the University have made the first available here for download. I chose the second because it was more conveniently mid-evening.

An Introduction to a new University

Using the software Elluminate, it was strictly a half hour introduction to the software,
the university’s aims and starting point, the three courses scheduled for ‘the Fall’ with a short time for Q&A at the end. Using a Powerpoint presentation, the four people leading the different courses talked about the content, times and dates, assignments and assessment of their module and illustrated one piece of course work. It seemed strongly focused on learning and applying practical skills and becoming a reflective practitioner rather than on transmitting lots of theory.

Marshall Ganz and UK organising

Marshall Ganz (Photo by new organizing CC Flikr)

The university has it’s origins in the work of Marshall Ganz, a renowned organiser who  worked with César Chávez as Director of Organizing at the United Farm Workers and since 1991 at Harvard, he became a key figure in the Obama campaign. The influence of his thinking is being felt in the UK through the Coalition’s programme of community organiser training, following the exposure of organising to public gaze in the Obama campaign. Ganz’ impact is also shown in efforts to organise staff within the NHS and to take the principles of organising into local government. The understanding of organising as being the creation of a citizen space for shared deliberation and common solution seeking is a welcome addition to the UK scene.

Traning and the Locality programme

In England, the new Locality model of organising is about to kick off with a fresh training
approach in late September, based on the work of the RE:generate Trust and called Root Solutions – ‘Listening Matters’. I will be joining the other trainee community organisers at Trafford Hall near Chester 28-30 September to get to know the approach in greater depth. This residential training will be followed up by a further six months of modular learning opportunities and online classrooms similar to the one I joined on Friday. Day courses and conferences will be combined with lots of training on-the-job to prepare the
first batch of full-time organizers to listen to their communities and take action.

Learning with global neighbours

Bringing social or political change is a process that can be taught. There are many variables along the way but the main tools and approaches – the repertoire – are well
known. What is often lacking for grassroots activists is anywhere to go to feel like they are normal. Their neighbourhood often feels like an alien but familiar place where they are constantly pressing for change, always out of sync, encouraging more awareness and stressing the political opportunities. A classroom – even a virtual one – provides a place for peers to meet and share their common problems and passions – to find some normality in the company of others. Using the new facilities of the internet, I got a glimpse tonight of how that might be – across the whole globe!


Do you have experience of distance learning about community building? How did you find the experience?

Making a community of the distant learners can be a challenge. Do you have any hints or tips to create a shared sense of belonging and trust in virtual classrooms?

Teaching within the tradition of Paulo Friere is about learning from the oppressed. How can this be achieved using distance learning and virtual classrooms?

The courses being delivered this year start from 12 September: Leadership and Organizing 101, Data Management 101 and Digital Strategy 101. Each one comes with a price tag of $500 ( that’s currently about £306) and lasts about 16 weeks – one semester. Find out more here.  The closing date for applications this semester is 2 September – very soon.

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